We love words at TBS, but we have a filthy habit. Sometimes we use them for our own means…and according to linguist Steven Pinker, it’s not a good look.
People that say pacific instead of specific are widely regarded as the worst people in the world*, but sometimes we still say the wrong word out of context and a Harvard Linguist has helped us avoid all the embarrassment.
*This is not a peer-reviewed fact, it just happens to be the case.
We love words here at The Big Smoke, so much so that one of our questions in our regular TBS Ten questions is “What is your favourite pretentious word to say in unrelated situations?”. Tim Ferguson said it was “fecund”, Peter Berner said “dystopian” while Maggie Beer said hers was “epiphany”. It is also interesting to think we often all use words incorrectly or sometimes out of context simply because we have some attachment to that word. There have been studies that highlight words we use in everyday conversation, especially the workplace, that impact the way others view us. We often say words incorrectly too if our main exposure to them has been from the written words, so we are inclined to say them phonetically which can be entirely wrong. For example, Cache is pronounced as “kash” not “kash-ey” and miniature should always be pronounced with four syllables as “min-i-a-ture”.
Harvard Linguist and cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, recently released his book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century that outlines the most misused words such as dichotomy, bemused, adverse and even enormity. For example, how many times have you heard someone say “I am super disinterested in him/her”, when the term disinterested actually means unbiased and not a lack of interest. Another example of words used incorrectly or out of context includes the use of “parameter” which many incorrectly use in regards to the boundaries of a situation. The correct use of the word “parameter” should be in the context of interest rates or inflations, according to Steven.
Unfortunately, we at TBS also have egg on our faces, because we often use the term “reticent” in the realm of discussing ‘reluctance’ when it should actually be used in the context of someone who is shy and/or restrained. So in the interest of poking fun at ourselves before others, we asked some of our wisened scribes what their favourite words to misuse were.
Polly Chester: “Ephemeral”. I mean “ethereal” but I mistake “ephemeral” for it.
Alexandra Tselios: I just say “juxtaposition” a lot and interject into everyday conversation in a pretentious and unnecessary way.
Mark Sims: I use “life-changing” for things that aren’t life changing.
Mathew Mackie: “Ostensibly”. As a singular, when I’m explaining something I feel strongly about. “Ostensibly, I’m keen for souvlaki.”
Victoria Cotman: “Tessellate”. When I think how two people (or two things) fit together, i just love that damn word. I use it all the time!
Maciej Radny: “Etymology”, used when I have no idea on the subject I’ve been asked about.
Jordan King-Lacroix: I use “legitimately” to express gravitas rather than what the word was legitimately intended for.
Steven Barnes: “Oxymoronic” as in “The way that grass grows through the concrete is so oxymoronic.”
Samantha Hamill: It’s poor form for an editor to misuse words. I am, however, guilty of using the word “perspicacity” whenever I can and its use is, perhaps, not always in line with its strictest definition. Also, the first time I heard the word perspicacity was in an episode of The Simpsons, so its use does nothing but prove that my veneer of intelligence is based solely on pop culture. (“Veneer” is another great pretentious word.)
Whats yours? Pop it into the comment section below and so we can all feast on your illuminance!